Trial of Frenchman at centre of Swedish Academy scandal starts

AFP/The Local
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Trial of Frenchman at centre of Swedish Academy scandal starts
Jean-Claude Arnault, who denies the allegations, at Stockholm District Court on Wednesday. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The man at the centre of rape and sexual assault allegations that prompted the Swedish Academy to postpone the Nobel Literature Prize faced trial today.


Frenchman Jean-Claude Arnault was an influential figure on Stockholm's cultural scene for decades, until the explosive sexual assault accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked a wave of similar allegations around the world.

Married to Katarina Frostenson, a member of the Swedish Academy which has been selecting Nobel literature laureates since 1901, Arnault ran the Forum club in Stockholm, a key meeting place for the cultural elite and a popular spot among aspiring young authors hoping to make contact with publishers and writers.

One month after the rape and sexual abuse accusations against Weinstein, Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter in November 2017 published testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Arnault.

READ ALSO: What does the #MeToo campaign reveal about Swedish feminism?

Wearing black-rimmed glasses, a dark suit, and a grey scarf around his neck, Arnault appeared in Stockholm's district court on Wednesday to face two charges of rape against one woman.

"My client denies the charges," his lawyer Björn Hurtig told the court.

The judge then ruled the proceedings would be held behind closed doors, as is common in rape cases to protect the victim.

Absent at the opening of the hearing, the plaintiff, whose identity has not been disclosed, later arrived as she tried to cover her face in front of flashing cameras.

"This is painful for her as she's gone through traumatic experiences, but she will be fine during her interrogation," her lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz said.

According to the charge sheet, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the 72-year-old allegedly forced the victim – who was in a state of "intense fear" – to have oral sex and intercourse in a Stockholm apartment on October 5th, 2011.

Arnault, who has denied the allegations, is also accused of raping her during the night of December 2nd-3rd in the same apartment while she was asleep.

Massi Fritz, a well-known laywer specializing in crimes against women, said there are "seven witnesses and a journal which back up the plaintiff's story on the two counts of rape".

Arnault faces up to six years in prison if found guilty.

'Unwanted intimacy'

The scandal rocked the Swedish Academy due to its long-standing and close ties to Arnault.

An internal investigation by the Academy revealed that several members, as well as wives and daughters of members, had also experienced "unwanted intimacy" and "inappropriate" behaviour from the accused.

Elise Karlsson, a writer who was one of the 18 who spoke out in Dagens Nyheter, said she was working under precarious conditions in 2008 when she was 27 years old.

"I suddenly felt his hands on my buttocks (and) at no point had I shown any interest. I was shocked and told him 'do not touch me' and slapped him," she told AFP in a November interview.

Karlsson said Arnault later approached her and said she "would never find work" in the sector again.

'Culture of silence'

According to Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, Arnault was born in Marseille in 1946 to Russian refugee parents. He arrived in Sweden in the late 1960s to study photography.

In a 2006 interview with Dagens Nyheter on his 60th birthday, he said he participated in France's May 1968 civil unrest marked by mass demonstrations, strikes and university occupations.

Due to his close ties with some of the Swedish Academy's 18 members, Arnault occasionally boasted of being the "19th member".

Witnesses have said he leaked the names of Nobel Prize winners before they were announced.

Seen as bearers of high culture, the Academy, founded in 1786, is traditionally known for integrity and discretion, with its meetings and decisions shrouded in secrecy.

But the scandal has unveiled what critics have called "a culture of silence", "nepotism" and "stale macho values" within the prestigious institution.

Disagreements within the Academy on how to deal with it sowed deep discord among members.

Six of them resigned or took a hiatus in the wake of the row, including its first female permanent secretary Sara Danius, while the awarding of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize has been postponed until 2019 as the Academy tries to rebuild.

It is expected to select new members in the coming months to, among other things, read the works of dozens of authors and select two Nobel laureates – one for 2018 and another for 2019.

Article written by AFP's Gaël Branchereau


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